Why language immersion as part of Montessori?
LePort’s authentic Montessori programs provide the perfect environment for learning a second language. Unlike traditional preschools and day care centers, the Montessori teaching approach naturally encompasses many of the key elements for optimal language learning:
Children learn language at different speeds and levels. Good language instruction is able to differentiate in speed, method, and emphasis for each individual child. Montessori preschool instruction is individualized by design. Our Montessori teachers are masters at observing each child and tailoring lessons to his or her abilities. As a result, no student is ever pushed beyond what he is capable of or held back to remain at the level of his peers. Each child is free to progress at his own pace, guided with nurturing support by a trained Montessori teacher who understands his unique growth as an individual.
Real-life interactive instruction.
Linguists look for opportunities to provide language in a real-life context, rather than out of textbook pages. In the Montessori immersion environment, teachers are vocally responsive to children’s activities and will speak to them in the new language throughout the day. They will greet them in the new language and provide instruction in the new language. The continuous hours of being immersed in the new language helps children absorb it naturally. This is Spanish or Chinese the way it should be learned: through interactive experience.
Extensive vocabulary building.
Montessori preschool environments abound with words of objects and ideas — from animal figurines to actual screwdrivers, from math concepts to the language of good etiquette — all words they don’t have to memorize from a textbook, but rather get to use and hear everyday in the classroom! Teachers are always describing what they are doing. A child who is building the pink tower will learn about concepts of size; one who is setting the table will learn the names of household utensils; another who runs across the classroom receives vocabulary centered around walking slowly and respecting the needs of friends.
Care for a child’s growing sense of self-esteem.
Children learn better when they are comfortable and not nervous about being put on the spot to perform, and when they are confident in themselves and feel “at home” in their learning environment. In much of traditional language instructions, children are called upon in a group to say things in the other language. This can provoke performance anxiety, which hinders language learning. In contrast, mistakes in a Montessori preschool are always positive, encouraging learning opportunities privately between the teacher and the child. Since much of the interaction in Montessori preschool happens one-on-one between the teacher and the child, the child does not feel the threat of failing in front of the whole class.
Monitoring and self-correction.
You only get better at speaking a language if you realize when you have made a mistake. The Montessori environment is also ideal in this regard. Many Montessori preschool materials have a built-in “control of error”, where the child naturally sees and corrects his own mistake (spilled rice means the child chose a cylinder that doesn’t fit, but he can redo the task with a larger cylinder, etc.). By repeatedly observing when things don’t work — and independently correcting them — children learn to monitor their activities and self-correct, rather than waiting for a teacher to show them how.
Knowledge of grammar.
Especially in the elementary years, knowing grammar is critical for becoming literate in a second language. Montessori excels here as well. Students start learning parts of speech with the Montessori grammar symbols as early as preschool, and continue a rigorous grammar program through the elementary school years. (This formal teaching of grammar at such a young age is only possible because of the sensorial nature of Montessori grammar materials. If you’ve never experienced them, please come visit — they’re quite wonderful!)
Clear, intentional language.
Children absorb language habits from their environment. How teachers speak is critical. Our highly-trained Montessori preschool teachers are careful speakers, every day, all the time. We say things like, “I invite you to get up and wash your hands so we may come together for Circle Time” rather than, “Ok, Circle Time, kids!” And as we have two teachers in each class who speak fluently in Spanish or Mandarin Chinese, children also get to hear authentic, quality dialogue in Spanish or Chinese between adults as well.
Children learn language better if they can repeat what adults are saying and doing. Linguists are amazed how naturally this happens in Montessori preschool: our students are used to teacher demonstrations followed by their own student practice. They have internalized learning by modeling the lessons of their teachers! Thus, they naturally want to repeat after their Montessori teacher, when she speaks in Spanish or Chinese, fostering stronger language skills.
Language is inevitably tied to culture. In fact, children often default to speaking the native language of the surrounding culture. A LePort Montessori preschool classroom provides a rich environment for cultural experiences. Practical life activities can incorporate Spanish or Chinese customs, from foods we prepare together, to the type of fabrics we use in our materials. Songs and stories from Spanish-speaking areas of the world bring Spanish culture to life in the classroom, as do Chinese songs and stories. We also encourage those families who come from a Chinese or Spanish-speaking background to share the culture’s events, such as Chinese New Years celebrations, or the fall Moon festival. Naturally, the strong Montessori preschool geography program enables our students to locate the cultural regions where Spanish or Chinese are spoken on the world map!
An early start.
Language learning happens most easily during early childhood. In fact, Dr. Montessori first identified a “sensitive period” for language learning in children from birth to age six, where they can apparently effortlessly absorb language skills from their environment. A Montessori Spanish or Chinese preschool immersion program which starts as early as infanthood or the young toddler years and continues on at least until age six, leverages the child’s “absorbent mind” by surrounding him with Spanish so he can absorb his second language just as naturally as his first.
In the end, Montessori preschool and language immersion are a perfect match. Now if only we had such a rich experience as children — as opposed to learning a new language in high school by reading dry language texts and taking written tests!
What are the benefits of bilingualism?
Research shows that early bilingualism has many life-long advantages. Becoming bilingual, especially from an early age and at higher levels of proficiency, offers a wide range of benefits to children that they will enjoy during their entire lifetime. A few key benefits are outlined below.
Learning Spanish or Chinese today allows your child to further enjoy his tomorrow. Being able to speak another language fluently enables your child to more easily and more joyously travel the world as well as interact with Spanish- or Mandarin-speaking people in our communities. If your family comes from a Spanish- or Mandarin-speaking background, practicing that language at school will make him more comfortable interacting with family members who do not have strong English skills. Long-term, knowing a second language can free up a student’s time to pursue other activities in his later schooling: high school language requirements will be met with ease and college admissions look favorably on students who can speak more than one language. As an adult, knowing Spanish or Chinese can also open up additional job opportunities.
Recent research indicates that being bilingual may actually make people more creative and better at solving complex problems. Bilingual children can also benefit from a stronger working memory, the ability to hold facts in mind that aids in many skills, such as comprehending complex sentences or performing mental math efficiently. Bilingual children may also have an edge in executive function, or the ability to consciously direct their activities, which is highly correlated to success in school and in life! Recent studies have even shown that full bilingualism may delay the onset of Alzheimer’s symptoms as well!
While some educators and parents may be concerned that speaking and learning in more than one language may
negatively impact academic achievement, many studies actually point to opposite results. Knowing another language well actually imparts a stronger ability in meta-language skills, such as understanding grammar rules. Compared to mono-lingual children, bilinguals also appear to have an edge in achieving high scores in standardized tests, such as the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT).
I am very pleased with the Spanish Immersion program at the LePort Montessori Huntington Harbor campus. Mrs. Del Valle is patient and caring with her students. It is amazing to see how much Spanish the students, including my daughter, have absorbed since only September. They all understand what is being asked of them in Spanish, and I’ve witnessed students helping each other respond and ask questions in Spanish: this is mentoring within the classroom at its best! My 4 1/2 year old daughter is bringing home books and reading in Spanish and seems to be having loads of fun while learning. It is truly amazing to see their language skills blossoming alongside their confidence!
How can parents support their language immersion child?
Parent involvement is essential in helping to build proper dual language skills during the Montessori Immersion program. Specifically, parents need to help support their child’s strong English skills at home while delighting in the child’s new language skills they are learning at school.
Active parent participation in building English skills
Because the daily language in our Spanish immersion preschool is Spanish, and in our Mandarin program, Chinese, parents play a more active role in building children’s English language skills than in our English-language program. While the items below are recommended for parents in all of our programs, you will help your bilingual learner tremendously if you can provide this type of support at home.
For younger children (infants — 4 ½ or 5 years old), parents are key to equipping your child with strong spoken English skills.
- Expose your children daily to high-quality spoken English. Speak with your child in English as often as you can. Take him on excursions and name what you see. Talk about his day and yours; discuss what happened, what you felt, what you are thinking about. As your child gets older, use full sentences and increasingly complex vocabulary and sentence structure. If you do not speak English as your family language, ensure your child has exposure to quality English elsewhere, whether through a nanny, LePort’s after school program, or friends who speak English.
- Read with your child in English, ideally for at least 30 minutes each day. In the Montessori immersion preschool program, all of our read-aloud happens in Chinese or Spanish. Research has shown that reading aloud daily is critical to help children acquire a strong vocabulary during the preschool years. Your role as a parent of a Chinese or Spanish immersion preschool student is to provide this invaluable English language vocabulary at home through engaging daily readings with your child. We have a never-ending list of book recommendations that, over the course of his time in Montessori preschool, will give him the English vocabulary he needs but cannot acquire while speaking Spanish in preschool.
For older children (4 ½ to 6 ½ years), this means that you play a crucial role in helping your children master written English.
- Listen to your child read. Once your child starts to decode words in English, you should spend 10-20 minutes every day listening to him read to you in English. We will send him home with decodable books that grow increasingly complex over his late 2nd and 3rd year in our class. Excitedly, learning Spanish or Chinese through immersion requires a dual parent-teacher approach: you will be his English sounding board at home while our Montessori preschool teachers will listen to him read in Spanish or Chinese at school! Of course, if you do speak Spanish or Chinese, don’t hesitate to also let your child read to you in that language; just don’t worry at all if you aren’t a native speaker: we’ve got that target language covered at school.
- Encourage writing in English. Our students will master writing in Spanish or Chinese in the Montessori preschool class and will have many opportunities to practice writing in Spanish or Chinese. Once your child starts the English writing program, which starts at 4 ½ for the Spanish program and age 3 for the Chinese program, we will provide you with tools and tips on how to encourage writing in English at home.
We will offer “story writing paper”, where he can draw a picture at the top and write about it below, show you how to play labeling games, and give you ideas on everyday practice such as asking your child to write lists for you. For the Chinese program, since character learning is based on repetition, we will also encourage you to provide practice for characters for older children, in case your child is interested in it.
An interest in raising a bilingual child
While there are huge benefits to being bilingual, there may be challenges along the way that will require us to work together closely. We encourage you to educate yourself about bilingual education with some of the following resources, and we’ll of course support you with ongoing parent education events.